Much of the violence that was perpetrated against African
Americans was shaped by gendered prejudices regarding African Americans. Black
women were in a particularly vulnerable situation. To convict a white man of
sexually assaulting black women in this period was exceedingly difficult. Black
women were socially constructed as sexually avaricious and since they were
portrayed as having little virtue, society held that they could not be raped.
One report indicates two freedwomen, Frances Thompson and Lucy Smith, describe
their violent sexual assault during the Memphis Riots of 1866. However, black
women were vulnerable even in times of relative normalcy. Sexual assaults on
African-American women were so pervasive, particularly on the part of their
white employers, that black men sought to reduce the contact between white
males and black females by having the women in their family avoid doing work
that was closely overseen by whites. Black men were construed as being
extremely sexually aggressive and their supposed or rumored threats to white
women were often used as a pretext for lynching and castrations.